Proposed county budget means more layoffs, service cuts

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Despite attempts to trim the county’s budget without cutting services, County Administrator Joe Baird expects to present a plan that will require such measures.

Explaining that lay offs and reorganization can save the county only so much, Baird said Friday that county residents can expect to see one beach go unguarded and other services be modified.

“What services do you deliver?” Baird asked rhetorically while presenting his proposed budget to the media Friday afternoon.

His plans call for making Treasure Shores Beach unguarded and cutting hours at the Main Library and shortening the season at the Gifford Aquatic Center.

“It’s impossible to continue in the same manner,” Baird said, without raising taxes – which was the directive from the Board of County Commissioners.

Baird and Finance Director Jason Brown crafted a $259 million budget, which does not call for an increase to property taxes.

This will be the fourth year of substantial cuts to the budget due to the economy and plummeting property values.

In his nearly 30 years experience, Baird said there has been only one other time when the county has had back-to-back budget reductions, and that was in the early 1990s.

Baird and Brown will be presenting their proposed budget to the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday and Thursday during a round of budget workshops. The workshops are open to the public.

Despite efforts to make the county run more efficiently, the taxpayer with an assessed property value of $150,000 in the unincorporated county will still see a very slight increase in taxes, about $2.51 over last year.

But for most residents, decreased property values of about 9.5 percent across the board will offset this small increase, reducing most actual tax bills.

Residents who live within the city limits of Vero Beach, Indian River Shores, Orchid, Fellsmere or Sebastian will also see a slight increase of $3.12 in their county taxes on a home with $150,000 in assessed value. This 0.6 percent increase may also be offset by reduced property values.

Baird’s budget proposal also calls for dipping into the county’s general fund reserve by taking $815,000 to help offset the budget.

The reduction represents approximately 5 percent of the reserve of $40 million.

“We’re taking a lot of risk in this budget,” Baird said.

To accomplish $2.7 million of the proposed $100 million in cuts, the county has planned to reduce its staff by 50 full-time and five part-time positions. This takes the county back to staffing levels that it had in 1996, though the county population has increased from 102,211 to 141,634 during the same 14-year time period.

The positions slated for elimination are spread across more than a dozen departments. Eight positions will be cut in the Road and Bridge Department, two in the Building Department, three in Traffic Engineering, two in Environmental Planning, five in Recreation, five in the Solid Waste Disposal District, four in Parks, six in Utilities and nine in other departments.

Elimination of six positions will be spread amongst five of the six Constitutional Officers — Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector, Clerk of the Court and Value Adjustment Board.

All departments were asked to submit budget requests with a goal of 10 percent cuts, while the Constitutional Officers were asked to cut about 6 percent.

Most departments and officers complied, with the exception of Sheriff Deryl Loar, who is asking for a $418,000 increase in his budget.

“Public safety is a priority,” Baird said, “but that doesn’t mean to goes unscathed.”

Sheriff Loar’s increases are not included in the budget given to commissioners. Instead, the Sheriff’s budget is recommended to be reduced.

The Sheriff is expected to make his budget request before commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday during the first day of budget workshops.

Baird said Indian River County is no different from any other county in terms of dealing with budget shortfalls and cutbacks.

“We all need to do our part,” Baird said, directing the comment toward the Sheriff’s Office.

County leaders are expecting Sheriff Loar to cut $2.5 million from his budget.

To balance the books for 2010-2011, the county staff made some assumptions that may or may not come to fruition. The Sheriff’s budget is only one of those assumptions.

The budget also assumes that pending negotiations between the county and the International Association of Firefighters and Firemedics will go in the county’s favor.

The IAFF will be putting to a vote whether its members will forgo their raises this next year.

County Administrator Joe Baird expressed optimism Friday that the members would vote against receiving raises.

If the IAFF chooses to require their raises, Baird said the county would have to raise taxes to offset the $406,000 increase.

The Teamsters union – which represents many of the county’s “field” workers – has “insisted on” their 5 percent raise, Baird said, which amounts to $437,000.

His budget proposal accounts for the raises by cutting 10 employees. Baird mentioned that it another option could be to implement furloughs – unpaid days off – among the employees to help make up for the raises.

Some in the public have called for salary cuts for the top administration – including Baird – to help offset the budget shortfall.

Baird said he would be willing to take a pay cut if the Teamsters would agree to the same. However, salary cuts alone would not be enough to make up for the lost property tax revenue.

No non-union employees are receiving raises this year.

The executive summary and budget message is available on the county’s website at www.ircgov.com on the Budget Department page.

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